Dogs are more expressive when you're paying attention

Dogs are more expressive when you're paying attention

"The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans' attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays".

Scientists have discovered that dogs produce more facial movements when a human is paying attention to them - including raising their eyebrows, making their eyes appear bigger - than when they are being ignored or presented with a tasty morsel.

To gain some insight, researchers with the University of Portsmouth in England enlisted 24 dogs of varying ages and breeds.

"Facial expression is often seen as something that is very emotionally driven and is very fixed, and so it isn't something that animals can change depending on their circumstances", said Bridget Waller, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Portsmouth, and an author of the study.

The dogs were all "family dogs" with "typical" training backgrounds for pets, and went back to their homes when their part in the study was over. Throughout the experiment the person had to keep their gaze focused on one spot on the wall and not respond to the dog's behavior. After the dog was situated, scientists would then have a person that the animal was familiar with stand a meter away. In the other two trials, the human performed the same actions, but also held a treat.

The most commonly used expression?

But the presence of food had no impact on the animals' expressions.

Each dog was tied by a lead a metre away from a person, and the dogs' faces were filmed throughout a range of exchanges, from the person being oriented towards the dog, to being distracted and with her body turned away from the dog.

"We hypothesise that it is a communicative signal which is under some voluntary control", said Kaminski.

Your dog may be a master manipulator, deliberately making puppy eyes to pull at your heart strings, according to a study Thursday into a ploy many mutt owners have long suspected.

Examining a total of 24 dogs aged between one and 12 (in human years), scientists placed each pet in a quiet room with a video camera focusing exclusively on its face. A new study adds some credence to that belief.

Biologists have mostly operated under the assumption that the majority of animal facial expressions are involuntary, but the latest research suggests otherwise.

"We cannot in any way speculate what dogs might "mean" with whatever facial movement they produce", Kaminski said.

Now we just need to figure out what they're trying to say.

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